Vanillekipferl (Vanilla Crescent Cookies)

Vanilla crescentsIt’s a busy week at Abelhaus as we prepare to leave for Germany on Friday. I can’t tell you how excited I am. We’ll arrive on Saturday and then it’ll be a whirlwind of events and adventures.

We’ll visit a Christmas market or two, check out a few Kölsch breweries and enjoy some excellent German bites. My lovely MIL, Magda, will be celebrating a milestone birthday, so there’s even a party for her in the mix.

Though there’s a lot to wrap up before we leave, there’s still plenty of time for cookies. Vanillekipferl, to be precise.

Vanillekipferl are a classic German Christmas cookie. Delicately flavored with vanilla and almonds, the crumbly, buttery cookies literally melt in your mouth.

I was first introduced to Vanillekipferl by our friends Alex and Jeannette. Alex, a native of Mannheim, Germany, makes these cookies every Christmas. I saw these gorgous crescents on the holiday cookie tray and helped myself to one. I soon went back for another. And then another. Then, just one more. And maybe one more after that. Soon, I had eaten at least five or six. They’re addictive, to say the least.

Vanilla crescents

I knew I had to bake this holiday favorite for the annual Food Blogger Cookie Swap. Now in its fourth year, the Food Blogger Cookie Swap is an annual fundraiser with proceeds going to Cookies for Kids’ Cancer, a nonprofit that funds research grants to five of the nation’s leading pediatric cancer centers.

I sent a dozen Vanillakipferl to new food blogger friends across the country: Lauren of Healthy.Delicious in Albany, New York; Cyndi at My Kitchen Craze in Palm Desert, California; and Elizabeth at Cooking with Milton in Boston.


These cookies are simple to mix together, but require a little patience once the shaping begins.

When I say they’re buttery, I’m not kidding. One batch of these babies contains three entire sticks of butter. Please don’t calculate the calories; I don’t want to know. Besides, everyone knows that cookie calories during the holidays don’t count anyway.

In addition to all that butter, the dough is enriched with ground almonds. Vanilla sugar and pure vanilla extract provide a smooth vanilla punch, while lemon zest adds a touch of brightness.

After an hour or so in the fridge to chill, the cookies are shaped into crescents and baked. To finish, they’re dusted heavily with powered sugar and a sprinkle of crushed vanilla bean.

One of my favorite ways to learn new cooking techniques is with YouTube. For secrets on shaping Vanillekipferl, check out this video.

Vanilla sugar is readily available in German grocery stores, but can be difficult to find in the United States. I recently found packages of the German brand in an Asian grocery store, of all places.

Vanilla crescents


Protip: Make your own vanilla sugar. In a small container with a lid, add 1-2 cups of sugar. Split a vanilla bean (or two) using a paring knife and scrape out the seeds. Add the seeds and pods to your container and shake to mix. Then, wait. Ideally, give the sugar at least two-three days for the flavors to develop. Feel free to keep the vanilla beans in the sugar indefinitely. Use your vanilla sugar for any recipe that needs an extra dose of vanilla: in pastries, coffee, sprinkles on buttered toast with cinnamon, whatever your heart desires.

Vanilla crescents

I received cookies from three fabulous food bloggers, including Mexican Wedding Cakes with Rumchata, a dozen delicious vanilla sugar cookies studded with dried cranberries and orange zest and dark and decadent chocolate espresso slices.


I had such a great experience participating in the Food Blogger Cookie Swap. If you’d like to be notified of the 2015 event, signup here.

Check out Alex’s recipe below and let me know what you think!

German Mac & Cheese (Käsespätzle)

German mac and cheese (kaesespaetzle)

It’s December, and I bet all you want to do is wrap yourself up in a big bowl of warm noodles. Pasta is the ultimate comfort food, and in Germany, the quintessential pasta is Spätzle.

This southern German specialty literally means, “little sparrows.” The first reference to Spätzle goes back to 1725, though undoubtedly the popular dish has been made in Germany for far longer.

kasespaetzle-1-1Spätzle dough is a simple mixture of flour, eggs, milk (or water) and salt.

The dough is rather wet and has the consistency of thick batter, rather than the firm, supple texture of Italian pasta. Because of this, it can’t be rolled by hand or put through a pasta machine.

In Swabian regions, it’s traditional to form the noodles by spreading the dough across a wet cutting board and cutting thin strips of dough into boiling water using a scraping motion. This results in thick, oblong noodles, with plenty of nooks and crannies for soaking up your favorite sauce.

In other regions, the dough is pressed through a sieve or Spätzle press, or cut with a Spätzle slicer, resulting in smaller, shorter noodles.

Making Spätzle can be tricky. The last time I made Spätzle, my $6.99 Spätzle slicer broke and fell into the boiling water, burning me along with it.  And the board scraping method seems to take an eternity.

If you don’t want to try your hand at these homemade noodles, consider the dried or fresh/frozen options available in specialty grocery stores.

Spätzle is often tossed in melted butter and herbs and served as an accompaniment to hearty meat dishes, like my Dark Chocolate-Infused Hirschgulasch (Venison Stew).

But I know an even better way to serve Spätzle. WITH CHEESE.

Käsespätzle is the distant German cousin of American macaroni and cheese. But there’s no béchamel (“white sauce”) to make, and absolutely no Velveeta.

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To make Käsespätzle, simply tuck your favorite melting cheese between layers of cooked noodles. In Germany, the cheese of choice is typically Emmentaler, a semi-hard, mild Swiss cheese. I prefer an easy melting sharp cheddar or sweet, full-flavored cheese like Dubliner.

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Bake the dish in a preheated oven for 20-30 minutes or until cheese is gooey and golden. Pro tip: broil for a few minutes for extra golden, cheesy goodness. Finally, finish with a sprinkle of crispy, caramelized onions.


A big bowl of Käsespätzle is the perfect antidote to your winter blues, but it’s also impressive served to guests as a vegetarian main dish or hearty side.

The Bottle Chronicles (Germany Edition): Kölsch


Beer is a major aspect of German culture. A 2012 survey showed that Germany ranks third in per capita beer consumption, behind the Czech Republic (first) and Austria (second). When many Americans think of beer and Germany, the first thing that often comes to mind is Oktoberfest. Think pretty blonde women serving big steins of beer and heaping plates of sausages and potatoes.

Oktoberfest is only one aspect of Germany’s beer culture, however. As early as the 15th century, German beer could only be brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot or “German Beer Purity Law.” The law permitted that only water, hops and malt be used in beer production. The law was officially repealed in 1989. Now, most beers are brewed according to the Provisional German Beer Law of 1993, which allows for a greater range of ingredients.

As in the U.S., there’s a wide range of beer styles available in Germany. In part 1 of The Bottle Chronicles (Germany Edition), we’ll explore Kölsch, the style of beer from M’s home city, Köln.

Kölsch is unusual in that it’s top- or warm-fermented and then cold lagered. The result is a pale, bright straw-colored refreshing brew with light bitterness and a kiss of hops. Today, there are 27 breweries in Köln that brew Kölsch, each with a distinct taste.


Kölsch is a product with protected geographical indication per European Union law; just like Champagne can be called “Champagne” only if it’s produced in the French region of that name, a beer is allowed to carry the name “Kölsch” only if it’s brewed within the city limits of Köln and abides by the Kölsch convention of 1986. (A few Kölsch beweries located outside the city limits were grandfathered in.)

On my first visit to Köln in 2007, I made it a point to try as many varieties of the beer as possible. I combed the city, visiting breweries, supermarkets and restaurants, and documenting each beer that I tried.

If you’re ever in Köln, you must visit a traditional Kölsch Brauhaus. Kölsch is served by traditional waiters called Köbes, who carry trays of the beer in small 200 ml glasses called Stange. If they see you with an empty glass, they’ll automatically set a full one down in front of you, keeping a running tally of your beer consumption on the back of a coaster. They’ll keep bringing more beer until you place a coaster over your empty glass, indicating that you’ve finished drinking. Pro tip: when asking for a glass of water be prepared for a Köbes to respond whether you also want soap and a towel.

Brauhäuser are also one of the best places to enjoy a plate of authentic German pub food. In addition to plates of sausage and potatoes, you’ll find hearty smoked pork shanks, soul-warming soups, and my personal favorite, Halver Hahn, which translates to “half a chicken” but is actually a slab of aged Gouda cheese on a hard rye roll.

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There are a few brands of Kölsch available in the U.S., including Reissdorf, Gaffel and Sünner. Find the beer in 500 ml bottles at your favorite liquor store, or on tap at your local beer bar.

Kölsch is also a popular style for American microbreweries. Of the many Kölsch style beers we’ve tried over the years, the one that comes closest to German Kölsch is that of Lincoln’s own Zipline Brewing.

Craig ReierKoelsch-1, Zipline’s taproom manager and a Certified Cicerone, explained that Kölsch is one of the hardest styles to brew. Zipline has mastered it, however, and this is one of the only American Kölsch that M will drink.

Indeed, M’s view was confirmed when his friend C, also from Köln, came for a visit to Lincoln a few months ago. After trying it he suggested that Zipline’s brew could be sold to Kölners without them realizing that it’s not brewed in their city. That’s high praise indeed!

Zipline Kölsch is available in Lincoln at the brewery and on tap at a few local bars. It can also be found in bottles at a number of Lincoln liquor stores.

In just two weeks, we’ll be heading back to Köln, and I hope to discover a few new styles of Kölsch. 27 types of Kölsch in 15 days? That’s less than two beers a day, so how difficult can it be to try them all?

For a great site to learn more about Kölsch, check out

Brötchen: Germany’s Favorite Breakfast


One of the pleasures of travel is exploring a new country’s breakfast traditions. Breakfasts in France and Spain are diminutive, tiny cups of café au lait or café con leche with a croissant or sweet roll with jam. In Germany, Frühstück (breakfast) is an art.


With over 2,250 types of bread in Germany, you’ll find many varieties represented in a classic Frühstück spread, from dark slices of rye to hard white rolls called Brötchen. Topping options include a variety of sweet and savory offerings, including slices of sausage, ham, prosciutto, cheese and smoked fish, along with tangy quark cheese, fresh fruit, preserves and Nutella. Add in a boiled egg and maybe a Berliner or two, and the laden table will carry you well through breakfast and into dinner.

When we travel to Germany, I’m lucky enough to enjoy this style of Frühstück at my in-laws’ home, as well as at guesthouses, hotels and restaurants. To keep M on his toes and give him a taste of Germany every so often, I’ve also started serving it at home.


It’s easy to find a variety of European-style breads in grocery stores these days, but one item that’s always confounded me is Brötchen. Fresh from the oven, the hard rolls are crisp and chewy on the outside, and pillowy soft on the inside. They’re delicious slathered with butter and topped with cheese and salami, or spread with quark and a spoonful of raspberry jam. Over the years I’ve developed a Frühstück system of working my way through each of the savory toppings before moving on to a sweet, satisfying end.

In Germany, where there’s a Bäckerei (bakery) on every corner, it’s easy to buy fresh Brötchen. In the past, I’ve purchased frozen Brötchen from, but I recently began making my own.


The secret to getting the proper internal rise and softness is egg white. First, I beat together all-purpose flour, yeast, salt, and a touch of sugar, and then fold in egg whites that have been beaten to soft peaks. I continue to add flour until the dough begins to pull away from the mixing bowl, and then knead with the dough hook until the dough is supple and elastic.


I allow the dough to proof a couple of time and then shape it into small ovals. For shine and a crunchy exterior, I brush the rolls with an egg wash and bake until golden.

These Bröchen are delicious fresh and warm from the oven, and M swears they taste better than those from a German Bäckerei. I usually par-bake and freeze a few, so we’re only a few minutes away from a classic German Frühstück.

Bring a taste of a true German breakfast into your home by giving this recipe a try — and let me know whether you swing sweet or savory. Guten Appetit!


Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes: Revamping Lexi Bites

david-bowie-changes-resized-600I’m a big David Bowie fan, and his song Changes has been rattling around in my head recently as I contemplate the future of Lexi Bites.

I began Lexi Bites in 2009, and the blog has become a personal journal of my culinary experiments, recipes, and travels. I’ve enjoyed dreaming up delicious bites, playing around with new cooking techniques and sharing them all with you.

Whether you’re new to Lexi Bites or one of the family members or friends who’s supported it since the beginning, thank you for reading.

In October, I attended Chopped Conference in Kansas City. It was my first food blog conference. The attendees were my people, passionate culinary adventurers from all walks of life who want to share their love of food with overs. In addition to meeting many inspiring people and coming back with a renewed energy for Lexi Bites, I brought back many ideas of how to improve it.


Over the next months, you’ll begin to see some changes at Lexi Bites. I’ll keep telling stories and sharing recipes, and I’ll also be working hard to improve my photography skills and make the site more user friendly.

I want Lexi Bites to be your ticket to a culinary journey around the world. Beginning in December, I’ll spend each month sharing stories, recipes, photos and culinary traditions from a new destination.

We’ll start with a taste of Germany. Meeting dear M and spending a summer traveling through his home country was an experience that deeply shaped my love for food, wine and travel. In December, I’ll be blogging direct from Cologne, as M and I will be visiting family and friends in Germany for the holidays.

In addition to Germany, other countries and cuisines we’ll explore include Scotland, The Netherlands, The Caribbean, Spain and Mexico.

Life should be a grand adventure. Even if you can’t pack and bag and spend the rest of your days exploring, I invite you to save room for a little taste of adventure with Lexi Bites.

Tom Ka Gai-Inspired Thai Mushroom Soup (Vegan)

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The first time I tried Thai food was during my college days in Toronto, Canada. I wasn’t much of a foodie then and most of my meals consisted of takeout pizza or Kraft Dinner (a.k.a. Kraft Macaroni and Cheese).

My first taste of Thai was Green Chicken Curry. I was astonished at how much flavor it had compared to my typical takeout. That night opened the door to new flavors and I soon made it a point to try other Asian foods in Toronto.

This week I’m turning to the flavors of Thailand to put a jolt in my culinary landscape. Reminiscent of a classic Tom Ka Gai, my easy Thai Mushroom soup is warm, comforting and free of animal products, perfect for balancing out all of the cheese, carbs and butter of the holiday season.

I’m keeping things simple with a store bought Thai red curry paste. The brand I use, Thai Kitchen, can be found in most grocery stores and is an easy alternative when you don’t have to time to search out individual ingredients. My favorite version includes red chile, garlic, lemongrass, galangal, shallot and kaffir lime.

I sauté baby bella mushrooms with garlic and minced red chile, then add vegetable broth, a spoonful of Thai red curry paste, soy sauce and lime juice. Light coconut milk adds a touch of comforting sweetness. Right before the soup is finished, I throw in a handful of sweet cherry tomatoes to cook until just tender, and then garnish with a swirl of Sriracha and a handful of Thai basil.

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Thai cuisine is known for its interplay of four fundamental tastes—spicy, salty, sweet and sour—and you’ll find them all in this simple soup. But don’t stop at just mushrooms. This soup is the perfect DIY dinner when you add in your favorite vegetables and protein. Try sweet potato, butternut squash , zucchini or tofu, or for a non-vegan version, cooked shrimp or chicken.

The Bottle Chronicles: Pear Hot Toddy

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Winter has officially hit Nebraska. We had our first snowfall last week and the cold has been lingering ever since.

Today’s Bottle Chronicles takes us to Scotland, for a fresh take on the classic toddy. Part cocktail, part cold remedy, toddies are revered for their ability to warm the soul on a chilly day and, some believe, relieve cold and flu symptoms. The jury’s still out on their therapeutic qualities, but they do taste great on a cold winter night.

A toddy can be any alcohol mixed with hot water, honey, citrus and spices. Keeping with the season, I decided to combine red pear with Belle de Brillet, a sweet pear-infused cognac, along with bourbon, cinnamon and star anise.

To make each bottle of Belle de Brillet, twenty pounds of fresh pears are picked at peak ripeness, macerated and combined with Brillet Cognac Eau de Vie from the French region of Cognac.

I set a kettle of water on the stove to boil, and pureed a ripe red pear with water until smooth. If you a desire a finer texture, feel free to use a juicer or strain your puree through a fine sieve or cheesecloth.

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As the water comes to a boil, combine the pear puree, Belle de Brillet, bourbon, cinnamon stick and star anise in a mug. Top with boiling water and sweeten to taste with honey or agave nectar. For a little extra cold-fighting power, add a squeeze of lemon.

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There’s nothing like a hot, boozy beverage to drive the winter away. Enjoy!

Vegan Comfort Food at Omaha’s Modern Love

I’ve already declared my love for vegan chef Isa Chandra Moskowitz. When I’m looking for a vegan (read: healthier) version of any recipe, her cookbooks are where I turn to first.

My friend Courtney and I recently went on a “girl’s day out” to Omaha, to check out an Andy Warhol exhibit at the excellent Joslyn Museum and Isa’s new restaurant, Modern Love.

The restaurant is nestled next door to O’Leaver’s Pub, one of the best clubs in Omaha to get your rock ’n’ roll on. It’s a quintessential dive bar, but in a good way. We were a little early for our reservation, so we stopped by O’Leavers for a quick beer to whet our appetites.

Modern Love’s décor is cute and comforting, with a side of zany kitsch, much like Isa’s beloved vegan cuisine. The logo is a radish cat, or rather, a little radish with kitty ears! Does it get more precious than that?

Modern Love Logo

Isa herself greeted us at the host stand, which was a lovely surprise. She always appears warm and friendly on her cookbooks, and in person she was genuinely happy to welcome us. Courtney had a moment of vegan fangirldom but quickly regained her composure as Isa sat us in the second of the restaurant’s small dining areas. The main dining area is modern and upscale, with graphic wallpaper and eclectic, mismatched mirrors. The room where we were seated felt intimate, with several two-top tables nestled side by side against a long banquette and one larger table for groups of 6-8.

The restaurant was packed when we arrived, so reservations are highly recommended. We weren’t surprised to see one of Lincoln’s best vegetarian chefs, Maggie, of Maggie’s Vegetarian Cafe, dining at Modern Love as well.

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Courtney, who’d been to Modern Love once before, was raving about the Fried Green Tomatoes. Alas, no tomatoes, as the restaurant’s menu is seasonal and changes often. Instead, we started our meal with crispy Potato Latkes with Coconut Sour Cream. Crunchy on the outside, with a soft, delicate interior, the latkes hit the spot on a chilly autumn evening.

Next up, our mains. Before we get into the details, let me tell you about a weird Nebraska thing: we love to eat our chili with cinnamon rolls on the side. The tradition may go back to the cinnamon rolls that used to be served at a famous local department store, Miller and Paine.

Isa has embraced this Nebraska tradition with her Chili and Cinnamon Rolls. Studded with chunks of squash, the lentil and bean chili is infused with warming spicy and smoke flavors and comes adorned with dollops of coconut sour cream and chopped green onions. Isa’s cinnamon roll is warm, sweet and surprisingly buttery. The best way to savor this dish is to follow each spoonful of chili with a bite of pillowy cinnamon and sugar-drenched pumpkin pastry.

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I ordered Isa’s take on a Korean classic, Bimimbap with Citrus-Glazed Tempeh. This dish is all about texture. Sticky rice and smoky grilled tempeh come adorned with an inspired array of charred Brussels sprouts, pickled radish, tempura fried shitakes and housemade kimchi. The spicy citrus sauce accompanying the plate was so good, I wanted a bottle to take home.

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We were pretty full by this point, but knew we would regret not trying one of Isa’s vegan desserts. We were tempted by pumpkin cheesecake with a gingersnap crust and apple pie with vanilla bean ice cream and salted maple caramel, but decided on the sundae instead.

This wasn’t just any sundae, but a Rocky Road extravaganza: two scoops of creamy cashew ice cream topped with gooey hot fudge, toasted marshmallow, coconut whipped cream and a cherry. Mind = blown.

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The Omaha dining scene is thriving, and Modern Love is a welcome addition. Sure it’s vegan, but don’t let that dissuade you from trying out Isa’s creative take on comfort food.

Spicy Spanish-Style Potato Soup with Chorizo and Smoked Paprika

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There will be soup for you, dear reader, in this post. But before we reach the comforting conclusion, let’s meditate on chorizo.

In Nebraska, the most common chorizo available is the fresh Mexican variety. Ground pork is mixed with chiles and vinegar to create a fiery uncured sausage that is delicious in tacos, pasta or huevos. In Europe, it’s more common to find cured, fermented varieties spiced with pimentón, or Spanish smoked paprika. Spanish- and Portuguese-style chorizo are popular additions to fish and seafood dishes, or as a snack with crusty bread and sparkling wine.

Pimentón is made from dried red chiles and is a staple in Spanish cuisine. The quality of Spanish pimentón is so important in Spain that it’s protected and labeled by Denominations of Origen.

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In the dark ages before Whole Foods, only one source for cured chorizo existed in Lincoln: Greta’s Gourmet. The full-service butcher shop and sausage kitchen was founded by husband and wife, Kevin Mandingo and Shaila Powell Mandingo. Their sausage recipes are based on those by Kevin’s father, Roger Mandingo, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor of meat science. Greta’s Gourmet has embraced traditional butchering and sausage-making techniques and turn out a deliciously, warming European-style cured chorizo.

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With temperatures dropping, it’s time to turn up the soup pot and try this Spanish-style potato soup. A simple potato soup is kicked up with earthy pimentón and fried coins of cured chorizo. The result? An exotic update to an American favorite.

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Find cured chorizo and pimentón in specialty stores. One of my favorite spots for hard-to-find spices is TJ Maxx. Or, check out online retailers, such as Penzey’s. If you all you don’t have access to these ingredients, don’t worry, fresh Mexican-style chorizo and Hungarian paprika or your favorite chili powder will work perfectly.

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Halloween Roundup: 20 Frightening Bites


When I was a kid, my mother spent weeks making us elaborate costumes with her sewing machine and glue gun. I dressed up as a pudgy green M&M, Snow White (complete with curly black wig) and even a marble statue of the Greek goddess, Athena, complete with tunic and “marble” base. In my college days, I used to love dressing up and hitting the bar scene or a friend’s Halloween party.

Now I prefer to whip up a macabre meal, snuggle in under a blanket and pop in a scary movie at home. In honor of Halloween, here’s a roundup of 20 frighteningly delicious drinks, mains, apps/sides and desserts.

Petrifying Potions

Morbid Main Dishes

Alarming Appetizers & Spine-Chilling Sides

Dressed-Up Desserts

What was your favorite Halloween costume growing up?

Vegan Sunflower-Pumpkin Muffins

Pumpkin Muffins

In recent years, Omaha has become a premier dining destination thanks to restaurants like The Grey Plume, The Boiler Room and cocktail haunts like The Berry & Rye and Grane.

Pumpkin Muffins

What may surprise is that it’s also home to famous vegan chef, Isa Chandra Moskowitz of Post Punk Kitchen fame. The former Brooklynite is the author of many celebrated vegan tomes, including Vegan with a Vengeance, Veganomicon and Appetite for Reduction. She moved to Omaha in 2010 and opened the city’s first vegan restaurant, Modern Love, in 2014.

Vegan Muffin Collage

I’ve been craving pumpkin ever since the leaves started to turn and the temperatures began to dip. Though I’m definitely not a vegan, I do turn to Isa when I’m looking for recipes that are both healthy and delicious—like these vegan pumpkin muffins.

You won’t find any strange ingredients here. Infused with classic holiday spices like spicy cinnamon, ginger, allspice and cloves, the muffins are the sheer epitome of fall. Non-dairy almond milk, applesauce and canola oil provide a moist, tender crumb that’s surprising in a vegan muffin. The final touches are molasses for a rich, caramelized flavor and a sprinkling of toasted sunflower seeds.

Pumpkin Muffins

Non-vegan confession time: these muffins are absolutely delicious with butter. But if that’s not your thing, try them topped with apple butter, your favorite jam or jelly, or Earth Balance. Enjoy!

Brown Butter Chocolate Chip and Pecan Cookies with Fleur de Sel


The first time I seasoned a main dish with salt and pepper it was a revelation. The flavors popped on my tongue and familiar foods tasted more vivid. I don’t want to throw anyone under the bus here (ahem, Mom), but I grew up in a household that largely avoided salt. Due to health reasons and the rhetoric of the medical community in the low sodium dark ages, my parents didn’t use salt unless a recipe specified it. Those were the days of bland boneless skinless chicken breasts and pork chops cooked until gray to kill the trichinosis.

The art of seasoning felt like transitioning from black and white to Technicolor. It’s no surprise that I’ve been known to hit the salt cellar a bit too hard. I meticulously taste my food for seasoning, often adding just a bit more than necessary.

Over the years we’ve experimented with a variety of salts of every shade and flavor nuance: Grey Sea Salt, Black Lava, Pink Himalayan, Hawaiian Red, even Espresso. These salts shine on simple crostini gilded with olive oil or on crisp green lettuces with bracing vinegars. They’re also delicious on desserts.

One of my favorite salts, perfect for those just beginning their explorations, is fleur de sel, or “flower of salt.” The delicate, moist flakes are hand-harvested from salt ponds. Due to their moisture content, they retain their crystalline structure atop moist foods, adding a delicate crunch of texture. Fleur de sel perfect as a finishing salt and should be sprinkled on food just before serving.


On a particularly glum day this fall, I decided that sweet, salty and buttery chocolate cookies would be the perfect pick me up. Enter Brown Butter Chocolate Chip and Pecan Cookies with Fleur de Sel.

Brown butter adds new depth to a comforting favorite. And who can say no to dark chocolate chunks and toasted pecans? A delicate dusting of fleur de sel adds crunch, shimmer and just a hint of salty tang.


BBQ Cheddar Chickpea Burgers with Creamy Cabbage-Radish Slaw

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Nearly every summer, M goes abroad, and every time he leaves, I swear I’ll become a new woman. I tell myself I’ll eat more veggies, exercise more, read more books and drink less alcohol. But after a day or two of cooking for one, my firm resolve crumbles. The rest of the time M’s gone, you’ll often find me eating leftover takeout pizza and counting down the days until he returns.

Except for this time, of course. And that’s where my chickpea burgers come into play. Already swapping my beloved beef for legumes, I didn’t want to sacrifice more than I had to, so I settled on a BBQ Cheddar Chickpea Burger.

I sautéed red onions, mushrooms, garlic, and red bell pepper until soft, and then mixed the vegetables with mashed chickpeas, Panko, egg white and a sweet and spicy barbecue sauce. Hungarian wax peppers, fresh thyme and parsley from our front yard garden added a touch of spice and herbaceousness.

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After an hour of chilling in fridge, I browned the patties in olive oil on the stove over medium heat, and then finished in a 400 degree oven for about 5 minutes. The final embellishments included gooey, melted sharp cheddar, even more barbecue sauce, and a crunchy, mustardy cabbage and radish slaw. The result? A tangy, spicy and cheesy veg burger that didn’t make me miss my takeout pizza at all. (Well, only a little bit.)


Feel free to dress this simple chickpea burger up however you like by adding your own favorite veggies and herbs. Try corn, cilantro and jalapeño for a Southwestern burger, or ginger, sweet potato, curry and cumin for an Indian-spiced burger.



I can’t claim this burger has made me a better person, but it is a tasty and healthy change from the greasy pizza I usually order.

The Bottle Chronicles: Certified Cicerone to Sustainable Brewmaster

Ploughshare Logo

Lincoln’s Matt Stinchfield has been brewing beer for more than 18 years. As Nebraska’s first certified cicerone (a designation for those with significant knowledge and professional skills in beer sales and service), he’s also been judging beer for the last nine. Matt’s beer career is about to come full circle when he opens his own brewery, Ploughshare Brewing Company.

Matt’s beers are carefully constructed. He approaches beer making with the heart and soul of an artist, carefully mixing his palette of hops, herbs and water to create futuristic infusions built on classic European styles. Lincoln’s unique terroir makes the city an excellent place to brew beer, he said.

“Our water is already like Edinburgh’s, Munich’s and the abbeys of Belgium. The mineral content is analogous to those areas. That’s a great place to start,” Matt said.

Ploughshare will brew seven styles in its regular rotation: Robbers Pils (a pre-Prohibition pilsner), Weathervane (a Belgian-style witbier), Tailgate Red (an Irish red ale), Buckboard Bitter (an extra special bitter dry-hopped with English hops), Pecheron (an American-style IPA), Farm Boy (a cream ale) and Smithy (an oatmeal stout). The brewery will also feature several seasonal beers—including Bumper Crop, a 100% organic Belgian-style saison this September.

“We’re trying to make a beer [that] when you close your eyes, if you’ve been to Bavaria or been to Prague, you go, ‘That’s it,’” Matt said.

While some American microbreweries may cut corners for efficiency or savings, Ploughshare focuses on brewing the old-fashioned way. Matt commissioned custom-made brewing equipment from Canada. The new equipment will be capable of processing raw wheat, the traditional method of brewing wheat beer, for Ploughshare’s popular Weathervane. Though the new brewing equipment will take more than eight months to build, Matt is still looking forward to opening the full-scale taproom in April.

Located at 1630 P Street in Lincoln, Ploughshare will feature a small, seasonally driven menu, designed by chef de cuisine Scott Burkle. A former Lincoln Secret Supper chef who trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Hollywood, Scott spent the last 14 years cooking up fresh, California-inspired cuisine. Matt describes Ploughshare’s menu as “rustic hearty,” with nary a fried food in sight, as the kitchen won’t be equipped with a fryer. He hopes to include a rotating menu of modern comfort food, refined with the addition of fresh, locally sourced meat and produce, including lasagna, bratwurst, salads and housemade condiments.

To enhance its rustic atmosphere, Ploughshare’s decor will feature reclaimed barn wood, and there will be no TVs in sight.

Ploughshare plans to open in April. Find out more at or on Facebook.

This story was originally published in the Spring 2014 edition of Edible Omaha.

The Bottle Chronicles: A Visit to Sonoma’s Joseph Phelps

Italian physicist and philosopher Galileo once proclaimed, “Wine is sunlight, held together by water.” There’s no place that quote rings truer than in California Wine Country.


In late April, M’s parents flew to Lincoln from Cologne, Germany for a five week visit. In addition to spending time at Abelhaus in Lincoln, they love to travel around the U.S. every time they have a chance to visit.

On this trip, M and his parents spent 10 days driving down the Pacific coast from Portland to San Francisco. I was able to join them for the final five days. They picked me up in San Francisco and we drove north, spending a night in Napa and a few nights in Healdsburg, before heading back to Fog City.


In the span of three days, we sampled close to 50 different wines, but the most memorable tastes we enjoyed at our visit to Sonoma County’s Joseph Phelps. We’ve been Joseph Phelps wine club members since our first visit to the vineyard back in 2007. And with wine club membership comes rock star treatment.

On a mild, cloud day that hinted of rain, we were seated on the terrace at a private tasting table to sample eight of Joseph Phelps’ award-winning wines. We began with the whites—chardonnay and sauvignon blanc—before moving to their signature pinot noirs and cabs, including the famed Insignia.


Insignia is Joseph Phelps’ flagship wine, and a vintage of the Bordeaux-style blend is comprised of the vineyard’s best grapes. Insignia is recognized as one of the world’s greatest wines, and it’s certainly the best I’ve ever tasted. The 2002 vintage was named the “Wine of the Year” by Wine Spectator in 2005 and 2013. Rock star critic Robert Parker has awarded three perfect 100 point scores to the 1991, 1997 and 2002 vintages. Here’s a video of Robert Parker discussing the Insignia legacy.

We began by sampling the 2005 Insignia, a blend of 92 percent cab, 7 percent petit verdot and 1 percent merlot. The inky wine featured notes of anise, black cherry and minerals, with supple tannins and a long finish.

Next up was the 2006 Insignia, a blend of 95 percent cab and 5 percent petit verdot. The 2006 growing season began slow with wet, cool spring temps. A 10-day heat wave in July caused early ripening, and the result was a nearly opaque wine with flavors of black fruit, cocoa, minerals, coffee and cola, balanced by smooth tannins and a long, lovely finish. The good news? M bought a bottle to commemorate the year we met. The bad news? We won’t be drinking it until at least 2016.

The 2006 was supposed to be our last taste at Phelps—until they asked if we wanted to try a barrel sample of the 2012 vintage. We told them no, of course.

Wine Collage 2

Just kidding! The 2012 vintage was still aging in the barrel and won’t be bottled and released until 2015. Like the other vintages we sampled, it was smooth, supple and well-balanced. We loved it so much we bought three bottles “en primeur” or as futures, which we plan to lovingly cellar for years to come.


Low and slow roast duck with crispy skin


My 2013 started off with a bang—a multi-course European feast at the acclaimed Zur Tant restaurant in Koeln, German—complete with midnight fireworks and champagne. The past year was filled with many culinary milestones: farm-to-table cuisine at some of Nebraska’s finest restaurants, elk and buffalo in the Rocky Mountains, oysters on the half shell (in Nebraska!), and homemade pasta.

The year culminated with a feast at Daniel in New York City in November, where M and I spent more than three hours enjoying the seven-course tasting menu. I’ll detail that evening in a future blog post.

The start of a new year brings new opportunities for culinary adventure, and I couldn’t think of a better place to start than duck. It’s become an anniversary tradition for M and I, and I often cook duck confit in honor of our wedding anniversary in October.

This time around, I wanted to try something new: roast duck. After M and I became engaged in December 2007, we were treated to a celebratory dinner of roast duck wrapped in pancetta by our friends Anthony and Becca. My adventure with roast duck was inspired by that dinner, as well as by the Christmas duck cooked up by our friends Jeannette and Alex.

Duck collage

I started with a whole young duckling. After defrosting, I scored and pricked the skin, then rubbed it with a dry brine, a mixture of grated orange rind, fresh sage and rosemary, kosher salt and pepper. The salt helps pull moisture from the skin, while seasoning and adding flavor to the meat.

I spent hours researching the proper cooking methods. It seems that nearly every chef and cooking site has its own technique for properly roasting duck. In the end, I chose a low and slow cooking method, hoping the longer cooking time at a lower temperature would yield the juiciest meat combined with the crispiest skin.


I drizzled olive oil over the skin, trussed the duck, stuffed the cavity with fresh orange slices, parsley and garlic, and set it to roast at 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Every hour, on the hour, I flipped the duck and pricked the skin to encourage the rich, unctuous fat to cook off.

After four hours, the duck was done, so I cranked the heat to broil to get a bit of additional color and crispiness on the skin. Meanwhile, Sous Chef (and haus carb chef) M was busy frying thin slices of potato in the rendered duck fat.

We served the duck alongside the unctuous, duck fat potatoes and a crisp green salad dressed with vinaigrette of olive oil, mustard and champagne vinegar.  2014, you’re not looking too shabby.

Roast duck plate

Summer Vegetable Chicken Soup

There’s nothing more comforting than homemade soup. I usually wait until the weather cools before getting out my soup pot, but several recent life changes and the start of a new school year (my first year as an adjunct!) have left me frazzled. This weekend seemed like the perfect time to whip up a batch of Summer Vegetable Chicken Soup.

Chicken Soup

We love to spatchcock and then grill or roast whole chickens, so I often have a bag of chicken parts in my freezer. After a few months of bone collecting, I make a giant pot of chicken stock to freeze and use in recipes and soups.

I started my homemade chicken soup by making a simple broth. I combined chopped celery, sweet onion, carrots and garlic with a bouquet garni of fresh thyme, parsley and black peppercorns. My secret tip: place your fresh herbs and peppercorns in a coffee filter and tie with kitchen twine, then submerge straight into the pot. This makes cleanup much easier than just dumping the herbs straight in.

Chicken Soup Collage

I let the broth simmer gently for about 75 minutes. Though 60-75 minutes works in a pinch, if you have more time, simmer for 2-3 hours. At the 60 minute mark, I added two boneless and skinless chicken breasts and poached them gently until cooked through, about 15 minutes. I strained the broth and then began my soup.

Summer Vegetable Chicken Soup is bursting with fresh vegetables and garden herbs. I sautéed garlic along with chopped fresh oregano, and then added locally-grown sweet corn, red bell pepper and zucchini. I finished the soup with my homemade stock, tomato sauce, brown rice, chicken and sweet basil.

Summer Chicken Vegetable Sopu

I packed up the soup in a couple of mason jars, added a store-bought baguette and homemade chocolate chip cookies, and delivered it to some of our friends who are also experiencing some major life changes. I hope the soup brought a touch of warmth and comfort into their lives.

The Bottle Chronicles: Gin Sling

Is it time to start celebrating yet? Tomorrow I’ll be receiving my master of arts in integrated media communications from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In honor of my graduation, and the fact that tomorrow’s Friday, I’m pleased to announce the return of The Bottle Chronicles.

The Bottle Chronicles was a bi-monthly column on beer, wine and liquor that I wrote for the now-defunct Star City Blog. I explored the Nebraska wine scene, interviewed local brewmasters, and shared my favorite cocktail recipes.

So raise your glass—in honor of my graduation, the return of The Bottle Chronicles, Friday, or whatever you want to celebrate—and let’s explore the classic gin sling.

Classic Gin Sling

A refreshing mix of fruit juice (usually lemon), sugar, and ice, the origins of the gin sling are a little contested. A 2007 article in the The Mixologist places it as far back as 1790, when it was simply gin that was sweetened and served cold. Later recipes also included grated nutmeg.

A popular drink for more than 100 years, the sling was reimagined in 1915 with the invention of the Singapore sling at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore. The drink’s creator, Ngiam Tong Boon, combined gin and cherry brandy with orange, pineapple and lime juices, a combination that continues to entice even today.

But for today’s drink, we’re staying old school. Feel free to swap orange or lime juice in for the lemon, or combine all three for a citrus sling. With just three ingredients, the gin sling will be your perfect spring or summer sip when you’re tired of the same old gin and tonic. Enjoy!

Blackened Chicken Salad with Creamy Avocado Dressing

It’s been a lousy spring so far in Nebraska—and this week is a classic example. On Sunday and Monday, it was hot and sunny, with temperatures in the upper 80s. I even got a mild sunburn on my weekend long run.

Nebraska Weather Meme

Tuesday was cloudy and a little cooler, but today through Saturday are looking utterly bleak. Right now it’s raining, sleeting and snowing. And the forecast for the rest of the week isn’t much better—temperatures in the upper 30s-40s with a chance of rain and snow.

Ugh. But this is Nebraska—and Nebraskans are known to persevere, so M and I took advantage of the last day of nice weather on Tuesday and cooked up an utterly delicious and (mostly) healthy blackened chicken salad.


Just in time for Cinco de Mayo, this salad combines crisp green leaf lettuce with juicy grape tomatoes, radishes, red onion, cucumber, spicy pepperjack cheese, mango and avocado with a creamy avocado-cilantro dressing spiked with lime juice and garlic.

If you’re a cilantrophobe like my father, try substituting parsley or chives.

Salad Dressing



Paired with a lightly blackened chicken breast and a side of tortilla chips, this was the perfect late spring salad. When summer (finally) rolls around, I look forward to making it with fresh vegetables from our raised bed garden.


Dark Chocolate-Infused Hirschgulasch (Venison Stew)

One day last fall, in the middle of the workweek, my cell phone rang.

“Hello?” I said, tentatively.

“It took me longer than I expected, but I found you a source,” he said.

We exchanged details of the hows, whats and whens, and I hung up the phone, ecstatic.

If it sounds illicit, it should—at least a little. And if I sound a bit like an addict—that’s not too far from the truth.

When my dad called to tell me he’d found a supply of venison, I was overjoyed.

I’ve been obsessed with venison for quite a while now, and I eat it every time I see it on a menu. Venison chili, yes please. Venison burgers, why not? Venison tenderloin, absolutely!

I’ve eaten it at rustic Nebraskan restaurants in the middle of the Sandhills, and even the night I got engaged, at the impressive Tribeca Grill in Manhattan.

The venison my dad procured was a large roast, lean and the vivid red of a garnet. For such a prize gem, I could think of only one respectable recipe—a rich and savory German-style Venison Stew.

I consulted the Internet, pored over my German cookbooks, called up a German cooking expert (my MIL) and finally settled on a modernized version of the classic.

This recipe combines traditional flavors—red wine and juniper—with modern flourishes—coriander, ginger and balsamic vinegar. At the last minute, bittersweet chocolate is melted into the sauce for a rich flavor that complements the gaminess of the venison.

We served it to our favorite German-food-loving friends over homemade spätzle (that’s another blog post) alongside a crisp lamb’s lettuce salad. For dessert, my husband made a German classic, Dr. Oetker’s Chocolate Chip Cake. Hope you love this recipe as much as we did!